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Snag the Enemy by Letting Him Off the Hook


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Snag the Enemy by Letting Him Off the Hook

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 16

This group: Stratagems for Attack
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Wait until they are tired and demoralized before engaging them.

When the enemy is fleeing, chase them for a while for a while in order to exhaust them before you attack or capture them.

If they are unable to escape, use shows of strength and other methods to demoralize them and sap their willpower.

Allowing the enemy to leave can also be a good strategy when you plan to engage them in more advantageous situation.

When you have ultimate control, you can show leniency, encouraging them to respect your honorable actions and so be less motivated to fight you in the future.


This is the sixteenth stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Attack

Alternative names

Let The Enemy Off in Order to Snare Him

To Catch Something, First Let It Go

To Catch Something, First Set it Free

Let the Enemy Leave in Order to Catch Him

In Order to Capture, One Must Let Loose

Or even:

Release and Recover

Demoralize then Defeat 


Zhuge captured and released Meng Huo seven times in order to show his superiority and gain the alliance of Meng Huo.

Tan Dao-Ji had many victories and captured 4000 people. Much to their relief and gratitude he released them, saying 'The army of a true king takes the upright as its position, so why is it necessary to slay the people?' As a result he gained powerful allies.

In business, when Coca-Cola brought back Classic Coke they gained huge publicity and increased their market.


If an enemy is cornered, they will fight desperately for their lives, causing you significant casualties. Even if they are out in the open, they may still have the morale and energy for a heroic last stand.

When troops are exhausted or demoralized they fight with far less spirit, speed and strength, and are consequently much easier to defeat. When they think there is no hope, they may even give up in hope of surviving.

An effective way of demoralizing troops is to kill their leader. Another way is showing them the dead bodies of their killed comrades.

In business, you can allow competitors to spend a lot of money before taking them on in product development or marketing. Internally, instead of punishing a person you can let them know they deserve it but you are giving them a chance.

In romance, do not cling to tightly to your desired partner. By giving them freedom they will love and respect you more.

See also

Sun Tzu: Parts 3.1-5: Avoid Battle


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